Culture and Language
Nepal culture is unique. It is rich with music, dance, arts, literature, religion, festivals and food. Temples and monasteries are the foundations of Nepali architecture and dominate the important cultural and historical places.
There are 36 different ethnic groups in Nepal and these have developed their own religion, language and music. Folk music is very popular. When travelling in Nepal it is a delight to see the different traditional clothing, taste the different varieties of traditional food and learn about the different cultures of the various ethnic groups.
The main language spoken in Nepal is Nepali with 45% of people using it as their primary language. There are however 123 different languages spoken in Nepal.
The most common greeting in Nepal is “Namaste” with both palms pressed together across the chest. Translated it means “The god in me greets the god in you”.
Approximately 80% of the Nepalese population is Hindu with Buddhism as the second most popular. There is also a lot of “fusion” elements of both that is commonly seen in Nepal. In the mountain areas Buddhism is more predominant while in the cities, mid hills and flat lands Hinduism predominates. Nepalese people are very religious by nature and hold close to their beliefs and culture. There is also a strong belief in spirits, ghosts and Shamanism and Shamans are often consulted for treatment of illnesses.
Nepal is not only the land of mountains but also the land of festivals. There are more than 50 festivals celebrated in Nepal every year. While the national festivals have fixed dates, religious festival dates are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar.
Some of the main festivals in Nepal are:
- Dashain is the biggest festival of the year and is held for 15 days in late September or early October. This is the longest and most auspicious festival in the Nepalese calendar and is celebrated by all caste and ethnic group throughout the country. During this festival the goddess Durga and all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable puja’s, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices.
- Tihar, the festival of lights falls in October/November and is the second biggest after Dashain. It lasts for 5 days during which time people worship Laxmi the goddess of wealth. During this time houses are cleaned and decorated with the belief that Goddess Laxmi will enter the house that is cleanest and most inviting. People light their houses with candles, oil lamps and other light during this time.
- Nepali New Year usually falls in the second week of April and on this day people go for picnics and have social get togethers.
- Lhosar (Tibetan New Year) is the New Year for Tibetans, Sherpa’s and other similar ethnic groups in Nepal. It falls in the month of February and during this time Buddhist monasteries are decorated with new colourful prayer flags and people perform traditional dances welcoming the new year with feasts and gatherings.
- Saraswati Puja or Shree Panchami is a day to celebrate the birthday of Saraswati the goddess of learning. On this day scholars and students worship their pens and books to please the goddess offering flowers, sweets and fruits in puja’s and flock in particular to Swayambhunath to the idol of the Goddess Saraswati. This is generally in January/February and is regarded as an auspicious date for marriages as well.
- Shivaratri (Maha Shivaratri) is the night of Lord Shiva and falls some time in February/March. Lord Shiva is the most worshipped God in the Hindu religion and on this day hundreds of thousands of devotees flock to Pashupatinath Temple one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the world to pay homage to Lord Shiva on his birthday. On this day devotees take a dip in the holy river at dawn and fast for the whole day while sitting around a fire to keep warm. On this day devotees freely indulge in marijuana as this is believed to please Lord Shiva and it is legal on this sacred day. For visitors Shivaratri offers a fascinating look at Hindu sacred men yogis or sakhus. Smeared with ash, with minds focused far from the everyday concerns of the world they can be seen sitting quietly in small groups. These ascetics, usually naked have mastered the cold, heat, hunger and sensual desire to live a life of detachment seeking union with Lord Shiva.
- Holi is the festival of water and colours that falls in February/March. This day is observed to rejoice in the extermination of the female demon Hokika who together with her King brother conspired to kill his son Pralhad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. On this day the streets are full of playful people (particularly young ones) that throw different colours and water balloons at each other and people on the streets.
- Ghode Jatra (Festival of the Horses) falls in March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tndikhel at this time.
- Buddha Jayanti is the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha and falls each year during May (full moon). On this day people flock to Swayambhunath and Boudhanath as well as Lumbini (Buddha’s birthplace) to pay homage to Lord Buddha. In monasteries around the country monks do pujas, prayers and ceremonies for 3 days at this time.
- Gai Jatra (Cow Festival) is the festival of cows and is celebrated each year in August/September. This is one of the most popular of the year as it is full of humour and comedy. On this day satires and jokes on anybody is legal and families who have lost a relative during the past year must take part in a procession by sending young boys dressed as cows to walk the streets of Kathmandu led by a cow.
- Krishna Janmastami is the birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and falls during August/September. Devotees flock to the Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples to offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and do puja.
- Teej is the Hindu married women’s day and is celebrated in August/September. Women clad in beautiful red saris will be seen singing and dancing at this time. They flock in particular to Pashupatinath temple at dawn in long lines to offer prayers to Lord Shiva for the long, healthy, prosperous life of their husbands and families. The unmarried women also observe this festival so that they will get to marry good husbands.
- Indra Jatra named after Lord Indra the God of rain is celebrated by both Hindu’s and Buddhists in August/September. This festival lasts for 8 days with singing, dancing and rejoicing. The chariot of Kumari – the Living Goddess of Nepal is taken through the main streets of Kathmandu at this time.